From idea to industry leader
Our founder, the late Michael Chowdry, observed in the early 1990s that passenger airlines were losing money and parking aircraft while the limited number of high-gross-weight, long-haul freighters were all fully utilized.
At the time, freight hauling was largely an afterthought in the passenger airline industry. Most airlines sold belly capacity for air cargo in the baggage holds of passenger planes operated on passenger routes. Mr. Chowdry saw an opportunity in the air cargo sector and founded Atlas Air, which began by leasing aircraft to other airlines on an Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance and Insurance (ACMI) contract basis, also known as wet leasing.
Atlas began operations in 1993 with one aircraft, a Boeing 747-200. During the 1990s, Atlas experienced substantial growth as customers realized the benefits of long-term leasing to meet their demands.
In 1997, Atlas placed an order for 10 new, more advanced Boeing 747-400 freighters, with an option to purchase up to 10 more. By 1998, demand for its services was so strong that Atlas increased its order to 12 Boeing 747-400Fs. By the end of 2000, the Atlas fleet had grown to a total of 36 aircraft.
In February 2001, Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings formed its current holding-company structure with Atlas Air as a wholly owned subsidiary. In November of that year, AAWW acquired Polar Air Cargo, Inc., an all-cargo, scheduled-service carrier, from GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS). The acquisition added global, scheduled-service operations to AAWW’s existing portfolio of products.
After restructuring in 2004, AAWW began trading on NASDAQ in 2006 and was also named to the Russell 2000 Index. In September 2006, the company ordered 12 new-technology Boeing 747-8 freighters.
In 2007, Polar closed on a strategic transaction with DHL Express that gives DHL a 49% equity interest, including a 25% voting interest, in Polar. This landmark transaction, in turn, provides DHL Express guaranteed capacity on key trade lanes while AAWW gains a valuable long-term customer, securing a strong revenue stream and further reducing both fuel and commercial risks through a long-term ACMI agreement.
Today, Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc. is proud to be the world’s largest operator of Boeing 747 freighter aircraft and our strategic innovations continue to redefine air cargo.